Defenses Likely to Rule at Lambeau on Sunday

The Cleveland Browns are offensively-challenged. The Packers' offense is receiver-challenged. Both teams sport stout defenses (though as you know, the Pack is a bit linebacker-challenged). It points to a low scoring game on a chilly late afternoon at Lambeau on Sunday.

It's been a strange season for the Browns, who dumped the third player in the draft two years ago after an 0-2 start, causing GMs around the league to get in on the fire sale. But a funny thing happened once Trent Richardson was excised from the locker room. They started to win--three in a row, thanks to the emergence of third string QB Brian Hoyer, who replaced Brandon Weeden. But when Hoyer tore his ACL, Weeden was back and the offense is back in sputter mode.

But the Browns' defense (led by new coordinator Ray Horton) is legit and will likely give the Packers' offense all it can handle. They rank seventh in the league in yards allowed and have gotten off to fast starts in each game. The Browns have led in all six games at halftime this season. But when teams make adjustments in the lockerroom, Cleveland has had no answers. They've been outscored 55-3 in the second half in their three losses--their achilles heel is third downs. They can't get off the field--they rank 29th in 3rd down defense. The Pack has struggled a bit on third down this season, so this should be a good opportunity to turn that around.

A matchup to watch is cornerback Joe Haden on Jordy Nelson. With Cobb and (likely) Jones out, the Packers receiving corps looks much more pedestrian, and Cleveland's shut down corner will likely track Nelson wherever he lines up. But the pass defense has struggled of late: surrendering four TD passes to Matthew Stafford at home last week. They allowed something called tight end Joseph Fauria to score three times--so look for Green Bay to seek similar success with their tight ends.

The Packers will likely feed Eddie Lacy early and often. With the passing game stressed, Lacy provides the perfect tonic--and he's getting better and better each week. Cleveland is not easy to run against, but Reggie Bush found room, once Stafford started moving the ball through the air.

Defensively, the Pack should dominate, even without three starting linebackers. The Browns can't run the ball--Willis McGahee was signed off the street a few weeks ago to replace Richardson and he's a shell of his former self. Still a tough runner, but no burst or ability to get outside. The Browns' passing game has two emerging stars: WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron, but Weeden can't take full advantage: he's slow to make his reads and even slower releasing the ball. If the Packers don't plant him at least six times, it will be an upset--even if they have to rely on Nate Palmer (7th round rookie) and Andy Mulumba (undrafted rookie) at outside linebacker.

The Packers will be in their throwback uniforms which will cause many to recall the '65 NFL Championship, where the Packers knocked off the Browns 23-12 at snowy Lambeau, the last title game before the dawn of the Super Bowl era. The Pack rushed for 204 yards on the ground that day, out-Brownsing the Browns, who would watch the greatest running back ever, Jim Brown, retire after the game.

This one will feel old-school all the way, with points at a premium and defenses holding court. Green Bay has held its opponents to 20 points or less in nine of its last ten at Lambeau and has won nine straight at home and 22 of 23 in the regular season. It continues on Sunday. I'm not ruling out a shutout, but:

Packers 16 Browns 9


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